Flashback: Tikal, Guatemala (Belize 2012)

We did a day trip from San Ignacio to Tikal National Park in neighboring country, Guatemala with Pacz Tours. The border between Belize and Guatemala is located incredibly close to San Ignacio and after a brief stop at the border to get our passports checked and exchange money, we started on our almost two hour drive to Tikal National Park.

Tikal National Park is the largest archeological site within the American continent and is also a designated UNESCO World Heritage site. Tikal comprises over 500 square kilometers of jungle, including approximately 16 square kilometers of buildings. The park was rediscovered in 1848 when a gum collector saw some of the temples roofs off in the distance and went to inform the governor of the northern Guatemalan province. At the peak, Tikal likely had up to 100,000 residents within the city in the 8th century.

The first part of the park we visited was Complexes Q and R, which is a unique twin pyramid complex that has rarely been found in other Mayan sites. The Complex Q was built to celebrate the end of a twenty year period, called a Katun in the Mayan calendar. It consists of four buildings based on the four directional points with pyramids on the east/west and rectangular buildings on the north/south. We were able to climb to the top of the east pyramid for a good view. The east pyramid was used for rituals and celebrations, while the west pyramid remains covered still. Our guide said they haven’t uncovered all the complexes yet because no remains have been found and they haven’t wanted to spend the money to continue the excavations. The north building in the complex contains an important stela that displays Chitam, who was the last ruler to leave a written record of Tikal before the collapse.

Tikal Complex Q Tikal Complex Q Tikal Complex Q Tikal Complex Q Tikal Complex Q Tikal Complex Q Tikal Complex Q

The Tikal Great Plaza featuring Temples 1 and 2 is incredible. It was constructed around AD 700 and it was built during the time that Tikal reemerged as a great city under the Mayan ruler Ha Sawa Chaan-K’awil, who was buried underneath Temple 1 (Temple of the Great Jaguar). Temple 1 faces west and is said to be the portal to the underworld. The Central Acropolis lies next to the Great Plaza and is likely where the ruling family lived. It is made up of approximately 45 buildings and 6 courtyards.

Tikal Temple 1 Tikal Temple 1 Central Acropolis Central Acropolis Central Acropolis Central Acropolis Central Acropolis Tikal Temple 1 Tikal Temple 1 Grand Plaza Tikal Temple 1 Tikal Temple 2 Grand Plaza

The north acropolis is incredibly important in Tikal for two primary reasons. The first is it the site of burial for a lot of the Tikal rulers from 1 AD to 550 AD. It also contains the oldest evidence found in Tikal of the first settlers dating back to 800 BC. The north acropolis was inhabited for over 1500 years. There is a large mask in one of the first buildings erected that is of one of their gods. The mask stands a remarkable 10 feet tall and would likely have been painted in brilliant colors.

North Acropolis Mask in North Acropolis

The Lost World Complex (or Mundo Perdido) in Tikal is the oldest collection of buildings in arrangement with the observation of stars including the sun and Venus, with the oldest building dating back to 600 BC. The Great Pyramid in this complex never had a temple constructed on top.

Lost World Complex Lost World Complex

Our final stop in Tikal was at Temple IV, which is the highest temple within Tikal standing at 64 meters (212 feet). It was commissioned to be built in 734 AD by one of the Mayan emperors. The view from the top over the surrounding jungle and the tops of the other temples in Tikal is breathtaking. Also, if you are a Star Wars fan, the view from Temple IV is in Star Wars IV. I’m not a Star Wars fan, so I can’t say that I recognized it from the movie, but the climb up was well worth it.

View from Temple IV

Travel Tip: Visiting Tikal from Belize was a really awesome day trip and I highly recommend it for anyone staying in the San Ignacio region. It did make for a relatively long day with a few hours of time in the car, but so worth it. Of course, the Tikal park is massive and is impossible to visit the entire park on a day trip. If you are visiting Guatemala and can afford two days in the park, that’s the best way to really see everything. There are even two lodges within the park itself (Tikal Inn and Jaguar Jungle Lodge) that offer a short walk to the temples and would be perfect access to a sunrise or sunset tour. 

Money spent approx (in 2012):
Day trip to Tikal from San Ignacio = $270 USD (or $135 USD/person, current pricing is $190 USD/person) **Note: if visiting Tikal on your own from within Guatemala, day tickets are 150-250 GTQ as of 2017 (approx $20-35 USD depending on time you arrive)

 

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